Up with Water!

By Jim McCloskey

When I come across headlines about technological breakthroughs, I generally decide about reading further based upon the subject’s relevance to what I do either as a private person or as a professional – and I have to say that, most times, I never get past the bold print.

A couple weeks back, however, I was intrigued enough by a headline reading “Scientists Have Figured Out How to Make Water Do the Impossible” to give it a click.  This took me to the News.Mic site and a grammatically awkward but still fascinating tease:  “Never thought you’d see a stream running uphill?”

The article is about how a group of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed a new material that can make water flow across its surface without direct reference to the force of gravity.  It seems that when the material’s little hair-like magnetic fibers are oriented by an outside charge, they form paths that allow water to move in various directions – the most unexpected of them being up.

The video accompanying the article shows what happens as the magnetic field is manipulated, and it’s pretty interesting to watch, even on a horizontal surface.  But it gets wild on a vertical plane, as a drop of liquid rises upward from its source, hugging the surface as it goes.  Pretty cool – and there’s the interesting suggestion that the same fibers can be used to create compelling lighting effects as well.

I don’t suppose this technology will be available to the watershaping trades anytime soon; I also have no idea whether it will ever function on anything beyond the microscopic level, in which case its utility will be extremely limited.  But my hope is that it somehow proves to be scalable and that eventually these scientists will release their technology out to the world at large.  More important, I want it to happen soon enough that I’ll still be around to see what watershapers make of the possibilities.

It could be something as unspectacular as effortlessly keeping a vanishing-edge pool’s dam wall wetted across the entire surface or managing the flow of spa spillways, but it could also be about manipulating flow patterns on water walls or, as the article suggests, making a stream flow uphill.  Whatever the practical applications turn out to be, I’d love being able to watch this technology kick watershaping up a couple notches.  Can’t wait!

Click here to see the article and video.

***

For us to get to a future filled with gravity-defying water effects, the watershaping industry first needs to survive the challenges presented by drought.

As most everyone knows by now, California is being devastated.  Unfortunately, as a huge marketplace for pools, spas, ponds, fountains and other waterfeatures, it’s also integral to the industry’s overall performance:  When the business suffers in the Golden State, the global industry suffers, too.

And California’s not the only area of concern, as large portions of the Midwest seem to be facing water-supply issues and no area of the country is fully immunized against groundwater depletion brought on by mass-scale agriculture and unchecked development.

At this writing, water bans are cropping up all sorts of places.  And even though cooler heads are prevailing in most areas and pools in particular have yet to be singled out as a scapegoat for a much larger problem, it’s my sense, unless there’s lots of rain this winter, that the fact pools use less water than lawns won’t matter because both will be in the crosshairs of municipalities desperate to show they’re doing something to keep water use under control.

These are perilous times, and I’m doing the best I can by conserving water and performing a brief rain dance every morning.  That second part may not help, but it certainly can’t hurt!

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